I’m going to start publishing my TJ columns here a few days after they run in the physical paper. Here is the one from Saturday:
A few weeks ago three young men from a small town in New Brunswick bid farewell to their families, got in their pickup truck and set out for Alberta. They didn’t have a job waiting for them.
They just expected to find good-paying jobs after a long ride in the truck.
I thought about those three guys when I saw the Twitterverse light up Thursday with images showing hundreds of people lined up for a job fair in Fredericton hosted by oil and gas firms from Alberta. According to media reports, more than 1,000 people showed up to get a crack at high-paying oil and gas jobs out West.
You can’t help but see irony all over New Brunswick these days.
North Dakota oil – most likely extracted using hydraulic fracturing – is being brought in by rail to be processed in New Brunswick’s oil refinery while two of New Brunswick’s three main political parties are falling over themselves to try and stop our nascent natural gas development industry in its tracks.
While our sons and daughters line up to leave for the oil and gas industry elsewhere, some of New Brunswick’s most visible mayors are serving up tasty but ultimately hollow quotes such as “our water is more important than gas” and making grand statements during council meetings about protecting New Brunswickers.
Apparently watching our kids leave to frack elsewhere doesn’t bother them much.
Who can blame our young people for wanting to leave?
The unemployment rate among those 15 to 19 in New Brunswick is over 21 per cent. At nearly 15 per cent, New Brunswick also has the dubious distinction of having the second-highest unemployment rate among the 10 Canadian provinces in the 20-to-24 age group.
What we really need from our politicians, local mayors, community leaders, academics and anyone else who cares about New Brunswick is to spend less time demonizing one of our greatest natural resources (70+ trillion cubic feet of natural gas) and more time trying to figure out how get it out of the ground.
If we can’t get it out – for either commercial or environmental reasons – it should be considered a great tragedy, not a cause for celebration.
A delegation of Quebec farmers recently went to Alberta to see how natural gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing is done alongside the agriculture industry.
Maybe one of our mayors should lead a delegation of concerned New Brunswick citizens on the same pilgrimage. That would be far more helpful than one-line zingers on prime-time Monday night Rogers TV.
Some of the most respected environmental groups in the United States are – albeit grudgingly – providing their view as to the best conditions for developing the shale gas industry.
They have realized their time is best spent trying to ensure effective regulations and environmental safeguards rather than trying to bring the industry down. That’s a helpful role.
Of course the oil and gas industry will not be a panacea for New Brunswick. If we are serious about fostering prosperity here, this industry is one piece of the puzzle. I am told it could provide a steady flow of high-value economic activity for 50 to 60 years.
But the broader issue is whether or not – deep down in our collective soul – we really even care about economic development. We give it lip service, but after generations of New Brunswickers goin’ down the road, I think most of us are just resigned to the fact.
One colleague recently told me that all three of his kids left. “Look on the bright side,” he told me, “at least now I have some interesting places to visit.”
For me, that’s not good enough.
I want our kids to have the choice – stay or leave – but you decide. For far too many young New Brunswickers there isn’t any option.
David Campbell is an economic development consultant based in Moncton. He writes a daily blog, It’s the Economy Stupid, at www.davidwcampbell.com.His column appears every Wednesday and Saturday.